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Friday, May 14, 2010

"Begotten" and "Created" as Found in Scripture

"Begotten" and "created" are English words carefully chosen by Bible translators to convey the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words of the original manuscripts as closely as possible. So first we should determine what the words "created" and "begotten" actually mean in English. The Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1963 ed. that I have at home says:

"create ... 1: to bring into existence...3 : cause, make" - p. 195. And beget ... begot ... begotten ... 1 : to procreate as the father : sire 2 : cause" - p. 77.

These two words can share the identical meaning of "cause to be." That is, we may say the mother (or father) has created a child or (more often) someone has begotten some thing that he built or produced somehow.

The Hebrew word yalad means "to bear, bring forth, beget"- Gesenius, #3205, but it can be used (as the equivalent English word also can) for "cause to be." For example, when God says he "begot"/"fathered" (yalad) the nation of Israel (Deut. 32:6, 18), he clearly means that he caused it to be or created it as a nation. There is no implication that it was somehow begotten out of the very substance of his body. In like manner God calls the nation of Israel his son, his firstborn because it was the very first nation created by him and for him (cf. Ex. 4:22). Again, anything Jehovah causes to be may be said to be "begotten" by him and is his "offspring."

"Do you thus repay [YHWH], O foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?" - Deut. 32:6, NRSV.

"You forsook the creator who begot [yalad] you and ceased to care for God who brought you to birth." - Deut. 32:18, NEB.

"Men of Athens [nonChristians], .... The God who made the world and everything in it ... does not live in shrines made by man. .... Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold or silver, or stone..." - Acts 17:22, 24, 29, RSV.
In Ps. 90:2 we also see yalad used in the sense of created:

"Before the mountains were born [yalad] or you brought forth the earth" - NIV, AT, JB, NJB, NAB (1991), NASB; "begotten" - NAB (1970); "were given birth" - MLB. Or, "Before the mountains were created, before the earth was formed." - Living Bible, cf. TEV. So, the Hebrew word most often translated "begotten, brought forth" may also be understood (as in English) to mean created or produced.

1 Cor. 8:6 tells us, again, that God is the Father of ALL things. He is the Creator of all things. The very common usage of "Father," "son," "begotten," "born," etc. is again used here for creation. Not only is God the Father of all created things here, but these things have literally "come out" (ek) from him. ("But to us there is but one God, the Father, [out of - ek] whom are all things".) Yes, the original New Testament word used here is "ek" which literally means "out of" (W. E. Vine, p. 1270) and is commonly used in the sense of generating, begetting. For example, Matt. 1:3 literally reads in the original manuscripts: "Judah generated Perez and Zerah out of [ek] Tamar." Judah was the father, but the children were literally out of the body (essence, flesh) of their mother Tamar.

Someone could speculate that since God existed alone before creation, he used some of his own substance (Spirit), which apparently is an incomprehensibly powerful and infinite energy "substance," to create or produce the other spirit creatures in heaven (his 'sons,' the angels - yes, angels are called 'sons of God' - e.g., Job 38:7; Ps. 89:6). If so, he may have modified it before producing them (just as he must have modified somewhat the earth 'substance' from which he created Adam's substance), so that their spirit "substance" is different from his own (just as there are different forms of energy found within this universe). Then we might speculate that he directed his "Firstborn Son" (through whom he created everything else) to use more of that Spirit (unlimited energy) to create the material universe which scientists know started in an incomprehensible blast of energy ("the Big Bang") which was then converted into the matter and energy of our universe. God then (through his firstborn son) created (or "begot") all the complex details within that universe, including mankind.

The terms "generated" and "begotten" had different meanings for Christians before the 4th century advocates for a trinity idea transformed them into the trinitarian terms that are generally used today. Church historian (and trinitarian) Dr. Williston Walker writes in his classic work, A History of the Christian Church, 4th ed.:

"[The beginning of the 4th century debates over the deity of Christ] hinged in turn on interpretation of the Greek term gennetos ['generated'] as that was applied to the Son. [Although] traditionally translated 'begotten,' in Greek philosophical terminology [as well as in Scriptural terminology: Luke 7:28; Jn 3:5; 1 Jn 5:1; Ps. 90:2; Prov. 8:25] it had a broader and hence vaguer sense. It denoted anything which in any way 'came to be' and hence anything 'derivative' or 'generated.'  Christian thought had early learned to express its monotheistic stance by insisting that God is the sole agennetos ('underived,' 'ungenerated'  ['unbegotten']): that is, the unique and absolute first principle. By contrast with God, all else that exists - including the Logos, God's Son - was described as generated ['begotten']." - p. 132, Charles Scribner's Sons, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1985. [Emphasis and bracketed material added.]

Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.) wrote:

God alone is unbegotten and incorruptible, and therefore He is God, but all other things after him are created and corruptible {Justin has just concurred that the world itself was begotten by God} .... take your stand on one Unbegotten, and say this is the Cause of all. -  ANF 1:197 ('Dialogue').


Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten - ANF 1:170 ('Apology').
And thus do we also, since our persuasion by the Word, stand aloof from them (i.e., the demons), and follow the only unbegotten God through His Son - ANF 1:167 ('Apology').


"NT 1. ginomai is used in the NT in a variety of connections.
"(a) It means to be born (Gal. 4:4); .... to be made, be done (Jn 1:3; Matt. 11:21) ....

"3. genesis means birth in Matt. 1:18 and Lk. 1:14. It also means created life or being." - p. 181, Vol. 1, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Zondervan, 1986.

And, that, of course, is why the first book of the Bible is named "Genesis" - the Greek word for 'birth' is here intended for 'creation.'

"The first book [of the Bible] generally known among Christians by the name of Genesis....because it gives an account of the origin [creation] of all things." - Today's Dictionary of the Bible, p. 254, Bethany House Publishers, 1982.


is the Hebrew OT word which means, according to Gesenius, "(2) to create, to produce" and (3) "to beget" and "NIPHAL - (1) to be created, Gen. 2:4; 5:2; .... (2) pass. of Kal No. 3, to be born, Eze. 21:[30]...." - p. 138, 139, Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, Baker Book House, 1979.

Remember, the angels and men are called sons of God in scripture. This obviously does not mean the spirit person who created everything literally gave birth (in the sense of earthly creatures) to them!

The Father has 'begotten' us all as his creation (through his firstborn son).